Wednesday, September 30, 2009

And Still More Progress

"Gravity Tubes II" necklace of fine silver and gravity shaped glass.

And the countdown to the Sacramento Arts Festival continues...

I sold the first edition of my" Gravity Tubes" necklace at the Saratoga Rotary Art Show in May. I really liked how it turned out, and wanted to do another with a twist. This time instead of the rectangular fine silver links, I made puzzle pieces. As before, the texture of the metal pieces is from a mold of fan coral I got on the beach in Baja, and the beads are made entirely using gravity and no tools. Liberating, to say the least.

I'm nearly ready to depart for the show. I hope to see some of you Northern California folks there!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Show Preparation Tips

I've just come up for air after a few hours at the torch preparing last minute beads I need to fill out my jewelry inventory, and happened on this very timely post by Heather Powers at Art Bead Scene. Heather has some great advice not just about how much inventory to take to your holiday shows, but what kind of inventory. It makes a difference. Interestingly I have been struggling to achieve a balanced inventory for some time now, and usually forget to include enough items in the lower price points, focusing instead on what she calls the "show stopper" pieces. I guess I've been lucky since quite of my "show stopper" pieces have sold lately, but that means I need to make more.

Sometimes as we grow and experiment with the latest techniques in bead making it's easy to forget the rapture (ok, maybe that's too strong a word) that a casual glass admirer can feel for something very small and simple. A nice bit of color, some shiny silver, and wow, it's a pair of earrings that your customer just knows that her sister in law would love for her birthday. That's the kind of jewelry I need to make more of for some of my shows. Forget the fancy stringer work, the razor cuts, and the inside-out imploded vessel dots (just making that up) - let the glass do the talking and be admired for the wonderful beacon of light that it is.

Monday, September 28, 2009

To Err is Human, To Finish, Divine

Such a weight is being lifted off my shoulders as I prepare for the Sacramento Fine Arts Festival. I am trying harder to focus, and I am getting more done. My most satisfying accomplishments so far have been finishing pieces that have been on my design board for months. Unfortunately what usually happens is I look at them for eons in their unfinished state, and carry a bag of angst around with me because I have not completed them. Then, I'll finish them in a hurry just in time to sell them at a show, without proper pictures and some fondling time.

Well, you can bet I'm fondling them this week! Here is my favorite completion so far - it has been in the works for longer than I care to admit as I struggled with how to pull it together. It started with the cubed "safari on ice" beads, and the rest of it came together for me (with much struggling) this week. Thanks to Susan Sheehan for the idea of turning our silver birds nest beads into actual nests carrying pearl "eggs".

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Word of the Day: Progress

New lampwork and fine silver pieces in my "Primitive Directions" series,
coming to my show in Sacramento next weekend.

The word for today is "Progress". Hopefully I'll continue making some in my push to get ready for a three day show next weekend. I didn't mention this here, but I had a little setback last week that I thought would be the end of my show preparations.

I succumbed to a moment of very poor judgment and used a razor blade to remove an epoxied PMC bead cap from a glass bead, and sliced my thumb quite smartly. Four stitches to be exact. What was alarming and caused my drive to the ER was the fact that despite prolonged pressure on the cut I could not get the bleeding to stop. They tell me I did a bang up job with it - hit a little artery and some nerves as well, but they sewed it up and I was on my way.

For about 48 hours I feared that I would not be able to make beads or jewelry with it, but after the initial pain was gone I pushed through and I'm able to do just about everything I need to right now, so the push is ON.

More new pieces in my "Primitive Directions" series, coming to my show in Sacramento next weekend.
This one needs some patina, don't you think?

Here's a sneak peak at some of the work I'm finishing for the Sacramento Fine Arts Festival this weekend - it's a series I started about 9 months ago called, "Primitive Directions", focusing on ancient looking elements in glass and silver, with a whimsical touch here and there. Almost entirely handmade components in glass and fine silver, with a rustic look and a very substantial feel. It's an actual collection of pieces that are all related...something I've been focusing on more lately, which seems to be getting easier for me.

It's going to be a close race to the finish, and I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to the cooler weather scheduled to break in the next day or so. It's a real trick while fusing and hammering and pounding and bending to also wipe the sweat dripping from my face and swat the little flies that seem to be everywhere in this dry sauna that's been Northern California for the last week or so. I think I'd even welcome some of the snow the folks in Colorado have been getting lately.

How is your fall starting out, and what word best describes your day?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Etsy Sellers Guide to SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

Etsy *does* love us! They've hired an SEO consultant and they've published a PDF guide for increasing traffic to your Etsy shop. It's 25 pages chock full of specific tweaks you can make to your Etsy shop to make it more friendly to the search engines, and more accessible to people using Google search for products you might have in your shop. It also explains what search engines are and how they work. Have you downloaded your copy yet?

You can find the link to download it in this Storque article.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Green Packaging: A Second Look

A little over a year ago I posted about green packaging, and the choices I've been making to lessen the impact of my bead and jewelry business on the planet. I was so pleased to have found a supplier of a blue bubble wrap that claimed to be biodegradable. Well, I'm afraid the results of my bubble wrap experiment are not so great, but the good news is that I think I can do better.

As you may recall, I took four samples each of both biodegradable and regular bubble wrap and placed them in different environments to see which was most conducive to "biodegrading". One set of samples went into water, one stayed outside in the sun, one went under the dirt in the vegetable garden, and one went into my worm bin. Of all the environments I had the most faith in the worm bin, but after several (at least 6) months in the bin there was no sign of decomposition in any of my samples. None. Granted, perhaps it was so small to be microscopic, but I sure didn't see it with my eyes.

Biodegradable bubble wrap manufacturers claim that their product meets federal standards for biodegradation, but my field test apparently did not meet those conditions. I'm very disappointed, but the experience has made me realize that I've missed the point, and has helped me rethink what it is I want from my packaging. Bear with me, as it's not uber simple.

Items that are reputedly "biodegradable" are designed to break down under very specific conditions. If those conditions are not met (either because the item never gets in the right waste stream, or because the conditions themselves aren't met), then it will not break down and it doesn't matter that you used that product. For example, some of the bubble wrap I've found is designed to degrade under commercial composting conditions. Does your garbage hauler have a special bin for "compostables"? Other than yard trimmings, probably not, and if you ended up with a sheet of this bubble wrap inside a package you received from me, let's face it - it would probably end up in the trash, or perhaps you would reuse it for another package (if we're lucky). The trash goes to the landfill and that is not the same as a commercial composting facility - it's a sealed repository for garbage. So, the fact that a product is biodegradable isn't worth much if it's never given the chance to do what it's engineered to do.

So, what choices does a green minded girl have for packaging and mailing her precious glass bead treasures? I consulted with Bob, an engineer for one of the packaging technology companies, and he had some good advice. My packaging products will fall into a category that Bob calls "uncontrollable disposal". That is, I can't control what happens to this packaging material once it leaves my hands. Sure, I could slip cute little notes into my packages imploring you to do x, y, or z with it, but that would be annoying and ineffective.

Bob suggested that I consider using a packaging material made from recycled content, so that the eco-friendly aspect of it is realized up front. Reduce, reuse, recycle is the mantra when it comes to caring for our natural resources and our planet. Don't use it if you can, reuse it if at all possible to keep it from the landfill, and recycle it if all else fails.

There are lots of options that fit this bill: paper, corn-based products, recycled plastic products, so my head is spinning with ideas right now. Until I get it sorted out, I'm going to keep using up my stash of bubble wrap (it's not huge), and will just lay this out there - if you get some from me in a shipment, please consider hanging onto it until you can use it in a package of your own.

I'll be back with more on this. I promise.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Two Happy Endings and the Start of a Big Push

Shirley Cook attempts to answer questions from a very bright and inquisitive onlooker.

I was fortunate have been able to help out with two amazing causes over the last week or so - Beads of Courage, and the Eastside Prep School. The first group you know about, as I've been keeping you updated on the preparations. Well, the BeadInspired event went off beautifully at Aanraku Studio in San Mateo on Friday and Saturday thanks to Lena Rhodes' excellent and tireless efforts, and the Live Auction raised at least $2700 for Beads of Courage. Yay! It's money that comes directly as a result of your dedication to the art of lampwork bead making, and it's going to help an organization that is really making a difference in the lives of kids with cancer. A big hug and thank you to all of the artists who sent me donation pieces, carried them in, or otherwise managed to see that I got them. They were beautiful and our auction audience thought so too.

Ralph McCroskey, bead maker and auctioneer extraordinaire. Hey Ralph, your head is on fire!

The Eastside Prep school's mission is to help kids from under represented backgrounds get a college education and realize their full potential through learning. Often these kids are the first in their families to go to college, and often they come from very challenging experiences. Donations they receive from endowments, fundraisers and other gifts help them to continue to do good work, and it's heartwarming to hear the personal success stories in the NBC News video on their website. Watch it!

Now for the Big Push. I've got a 3 day show coming up and as usual, I'm low on inventory. I had a successful (though quiet) Customer Appreciation sale last week to celebrate my two year "Etsyversary", and have some major work to do (that was a hint that you really should consider signing up for my newsletter). But the big creative crank is turning smoothly now, and if you come and see me at the Sacramento Fine Arts Festival on October 2-4, you won't be disappointed. Meanies as you've not seen them before, new work in my Primitive Directions Series, and more will be there.

If you think you might be in the area for the show, let me know and I can have some free passes for you at Will Call. I would love to see some friendly faces there. I'll be sneaking a few peeks at my new work in over the next week before the show.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Beads of Courage Flame Off!

Just wanted to let you all know about the two day Beads of Courage benefit about to begin at Aanraku Studios in San Mateo. SGB Norcal members, hospital staff, children undergoing treatment, and their parents have all been invited to attend this big two day hot glass fest, and yours truly will be there with didymiums, Plays With Fire baseball cap, tools, and a helping hand. Personally, I can't wait to see one of Sharon's famous Beatles Bead Tosses in person.

Here's the fine print:

Friday Sept. 18th, 10am - 8 pm: Bead making demos & challenges, bead shop, free jewelry making sessions
Saturday Sept. 19th, 10am - 3pm: Bead making demos & challenges, bead shop, free jewelry making sessions
Saturday Sept. 19th, 6-8 pm: Dinner and live auction, plus Sharon Peters demo.

Tickets are $30 per person for a delicious Italian dinner catered by Bucca di Beppo, complete with desert and wine!
There will also be a live auction of beautiful handmade jewelry during dinner, and an event closing glass bead demo by Sharon Peters to finish off the evening!

To order Reception Tickets: call Lena (925) 872-4276 or Aanraku: (650) 372-0527

Directions To Aanraku Glass Studios
Parking Garage Info down at bottom)

41 South Railroad Avenue, San Mateo, CA 94401
phone: (650) 372-0527 email:

From 880 South:
· Take the Hwy 92 E/Jackson St. exit, to the San Mateo Bridge; Cross the bridge
· Merge onto US-101 North toward San Francisco
· Take the E. 3rd Ave exit, and go West. Go under the overpass and loop around onto 3rd Avenue.
· Go straight, cross a couple intersections, and turn RIGHT on Delaware.
· Turn LEFT on 1st Ave.
· To get to the studio: Just before the railroad tracks, turn RIGHT on S. Railroad Avenue. If you cross the tracks, you’ve missed it.

From US-101 North: aim for San Mateo, and :

· Take the 3rd Ave exit, and go West. Go under the overpass and loop around onto 3rd Avenue.
· Go straight, cross a couple intersections, and turn RIGHT on Delaware.
· Turn LEFT on 1st Ave.
· To get to the studio: Just before the railroad tracks, turn RIGHT on S. Railroad Avenue. If you cross the tracks, you’ve missed it.

From US-101 South: Exit at 3rdAve going West & follow directions above.

You probably won’t find a spot in front of the studio.
Here are the two closest parking garages, both 1 block away, and cheap (bring quarters!)

1) Cross the tracks. Enter the Public Parking garage on the LEFT. You’ll have to walk a block down Railroad to reach the studio. (OR)

2) Cross the tracks. Turn RIGHT into the Cal Train station, follow the driveway and enter the underground parking garage at the end of the drive. Take the stairs at the end of the garage (closest to 1st Ave). You’ll have to walk a block down Railroad to reach the studio.

"Imma Let You Finish"

According to the Urban Dictionary, this is an obnoxious way to interrupt someone and steal their moment, while wryly mocking that media train wreck that is Kanye West.

Based on West's instantly infamous interruption of Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards for Best Female Video with his insane microphone-stealing shout out to Beyonce.

Bob: Thank you Mr. Brown for having us in to give this sales presentation. We'd like to talk to you today about...

Alfred: Yo, Bob, I'm really happy for you, and Imma let you finish, but I just got to say our product is is one of the best products there is!

I love my daily definitions from the Urban Dictionary. I hope you define your day in a spectacular way.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Love Apple Farm Tour and Tomato Class

My local gardening group recently went on a tour of nearby Love Apple Farm in Ben Lomond, and I thought I'd share a little of our day with you. They are known for their tomatoes (thus the name), but organically grow an incredible variety of vegetables exclusively for Manresa restaurant, which is reportedly among the top 50 restaurants in the world, and which I won't be affording any time soon, maybe ever. But their menus sure sound delicious, and having seen the care with which the food is grown, I'm sure they deserve their two Michelin stars.

Cynthia Sandberg showed us around on a very hot Saturday while her apprentices worked in the garden to earn their education and board at the farm. Everything there is grown biodynamically, and nothing goes to waste. Crop leaves harboring leaf miner maggots are not composted, but given to the chickens (and one token pig) to end the pest's cycle and produce fertilzer (chicken manure) for the crops. Everything works together as a system, and there's something fundamentally appealing to me about that.

Cheerful dahlias and sunflowers are mixed among the raised vegetable beds with the food, and there is always a new crop being sowed or harvested. Pests such as gophers are trapped, and I was surprised to learn that the raised beds are not protected underneath with wire, as most folks do around here.

Cynthia shows us some of the non-vegetable crops growing at the edges of the raised beds.

Their last sowing of corn was only knee high last week, at the end of August.

The farm brings in income through classes and tours, selling vegetables, and selling tomato plants in the spring. From what we saw during our few hours there, Cynthia is very involved in the detailed work of the farm, and freely shares her knowledge with visitors.

We also had a mini version of her Master Tomato growing class, and a tomato tasting. I was surprised by the variety in color, size, and flavor, and now have some new favorites including Great White, Brown Stripe (despite it's appearance and unappetizing name), and Brandy Sweet Plum. I'm determined to do better next year, provided I can find a sunnier spot in the garden. She recommended a number of smaller fruit varieties that would do well in the lower light conditions that mountain gardeners often have.

Have you ever tasted a Litchi tomato? You need heavy duty gloves to handle them because of the thorns. We didn't taste any during our visit, unfortunately.

After our tour and class we scattered to the shade to eat our bag lunches and talk about what we learned. I think everyone in our group is eager to do better with tomatoes, and some had already been growing Cynthia's plants they had gotten in the spring sale.

If you're interested in her tips for growing better tomatoes, check out her beautiful blog, which is filled with great content - her planting tips apply to container grown tomatoes as well as those grown in the ground. And if you're anywhere in the San Francisco Bay area in the spring, do stop by to get some seedlings. I sure plan to.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

It's Christmas Around Here...

and I feel like the little kid under the Christmas tree. Almost. I get to unwrap all of these beautiful, heartfelt gifts to the Beads of Courage fundraiser coming up in about a week at Aanraku studios in San Mateo.

The donations for the Beads of Courage BeadInspired weekend are trickling in, and here is the latest crop. In the first image are some lovely earrings from Mary Jolley (also known as Dancing Frog Jewelry) and one of Laura Holm's stunning wire wrapped necklaces. Mary has been making glass beads for about 8 years and has several online venues, and today I learned that we share the same birthday.

If you haven't seen Laura Holm's work, check out her Etsy shop. I met Laura in person at a show in Sacramento (I was a shopper), and had so much fun talking to her about lampwork and jewelry and such, my mother in law had to practically drag me out of there. She's got tutorials and kits!

This cool stash of beads came from Susie Harper and Lena and I plan to get together today to make some fabulous jewelry pieces for the BOC event from these and other donated beads. I met Susie while attending the Kate Wolf Memorial Music Festival in Laytonville last year, and enjoyed talking to her in her booth about glassy addictions. She was very kind to agree to help us out with a donation this year. I would link to her website but unfortunately (please correct me if I'm wrong), she's not online yet. But look for her at shows around Northern California - her work is amazing.

The clock continues to tick down to our BeadInspired weekend, starting one week from tomorrow. Festivities begin at 10 am on Friday, September 18. Please come by for part or all of the weekend. I'll be participating in the torchathon on both days, which is going to be a lot of fun.

Stay tuned for more - donations are still coming in and I've got more to show you.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Artist Interview: Terry Parker of Loma Prieta Pottery

One of Terry's extraordinary cherry blossom teapots with mugs.

Terry and I have known each other for a while now, as members of the local Mountain Art Guild, and from doing shows together. We like to chat about the latest Etsy happenings, local shows, and art marketing tips. She makes wonderful functional pottery that is also fun and attractive, and is the potter behind Loma Prieta Pottery.

I was happy when Terry invited me over the other day to chat and drink some iced tea in the heat of the afternoon. I hadn't seen her studio before, but had heard it was very nice. Apparently her cats think so too. Terry is getting ready for a show this weekend, so not much was going on here.

Bats waiting for the next production cycle.

She has been making functional items like mugs, vases, soap dispensers, wine chillers and plates for some time now, and each of them has been engineered to perform its function well. One of her special items is her carved cherry blossom teapots. The design is very clean, and quite lovely. She recently sold one of her "lucky red teapots" to be used during a Japanese wedding ceremony. How cool is that? The tea sets make wonderful wedding gifts.

If you've seen the movie "Julie & Julia", you might be looking for a salt pig. Terry makes some great ones.

Salt Pig in Woo Blue.

Anyway, as she was showing me her work space, I was struck by how much our dissimilar arts actually have in common. We both can make messes, that's for sure, but I think she's better at it than me. Her process has a number of disctinct stages, like mine does, but her pieces take much longer to produce.

First she throws the piece on her electric wheel, and it gets transferred to shelving while still on the bat. When leather hard, she cuts it off the bat and takes it to her trimming wheel (kick-powered) to clean up.

Electric throwing wheel.

Efficiency is another thing we have in common. She saves the scrap clay from trimming to rehydrate and reuse. Glass beadmakers generally produce a lot of "shorts", or very small ends of glass rods that many folks either sell as scrap, or throw away. I like to melt mine onto full rods so that nothing is wasted. I also use the heck out of my mandrels, cutting them shorter as the ends become too bent to be usable.

Manually operated trimming wheel.

Once pieces are dry they can be fired in her kiln, but she waits until she has a full load before firing. The kiln can handle different numbers of each size piece, so she will make what items she needs to fill the kiln before firing.

Glazing is done at a friends' house with her kiln, and once again, you'll find Terry schlepping her art out of the house to a remote location. It's truly a labor of love, or a workout, or both, but in either event, the outcome is very pretty. Every time we do a show together I am reminded of how lucky I am to be a jewelry artist. She's usually still packing her bulky, heavy pottery as I stop by to say goodbye on my way out with all my work in one small case. But at least she has a very nice husband who often helps her set up or pack up.

This is a photo of Terry working in her studio (from her website). I hope to visit again when the production line is up and running.

If you're not able to come to one of her shows in this area, check out her website and her Etsy shop. She's very friendly to custom work, but I'm sure you'll find something you love in her shop. I think I'm going to visit her this weekend at the Tapestry Arts Festival in San Jose and do some shopping.

Can't Get No Satisfaction

I've had one of those days. Tried to accomplish a list of varied tasks but seemed to get foiled at every turn by what should be simple technology. I may have to resort to housecleaning to get some satisfaction, I'm afraid. It's that bad. But housecleaning never fails to bring that great feeling of victory.

After at least 3 years of procrastination, with parts all purchased and waiting, I tried to hook up a Raindrip irrigation system for some odd plants not covered by the main system. Foiled. The battery operated timer works fine - opens valves as instructed. But no matter which parts I hook up to the outflow connection on it, they all leak. I've tried it with washers and without, with odd looking devices from my parts bin that suggest they go together by their threads. Every time it's the same - water spraying from the connection coming out of the timer. Grrr.

I've also tried to get the fountain going again, after a couple of months of no flow. It was dirty, and I cleaned it well and filled it. Upon plugging it in...nothing. I guess I should be happy with the fountain spewing from my Raindrip irrigation timer. Last time this happened I shot some water into the pump, and through the pump backwards, and shook it vigorously, and it came to life. This time, nada. Maybe I should click my heels together three times. Grrr.

I tried to get a Treasury on Etsy, and watched the numbers count down to the magical 333. My Poster Sketch was ready, and I was poised to pounce. The timing meshed perfectly with my day. I saw the screen change and thought I was in - would have been a coup since one I made the other day was just expiring. There's the trick - "just". It was still alive one minute after the Treasury opened up, and they don't allow you to have more than one at a time. Such a notice politely flashed on my screen as the Treasury opened up and I watched the slots fly out the window. Had I been on the ball I would have deleted my own just before this one opened up but I was foiled yet again.

I need to call Direct TV to ask them to politely exchange our DVR, but after my luck today I'm dreading that call. The thing refuses to get updates over the phone line as it is supposed to, and resets itself at least once a day (sometimes during recording). I have called them repeatedly on this, and they refuse to commit a human to make the trip to our house, preferring instead to keep me on the phone punching buttons and clicking on menus as they read from their troubleshooting spreadsheet.

The White Balance on my Optio W20 camera is impossible to set, forcing me to do far too much editing in Photoshop. It seems that most folks like to take pictures in Auto mode, and to do anything else requires a multitude of complicated menu operations.

My website is a mess and the files for it were lost when my computer crashed last Christmas. I've been on the phone with GoDaddy customer support who told me how to download the files so I can get going again, but it did not work. Another customer support call is needed.

These are not satisfying tasks. I need something to feel good about! Tomorrow will be better - I'll be melting glass.

Now where'd I put the dust cloth?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Beads Of Courage Fundraiser

The jewelry donations are slowly trickling in for the Beads of Courage fundraiser on September 18 and 19 at Aanraku Studio in San Mateo, CA. Beads of Courage is an organization that gives beads to children with cancer as rewards for their courage during the treatment.

I volunteered to help organizers Sharon Peters and Lena Rhodes by gathering donations for the live jewelry auction (Sharon Peters is the auctioneer). have already received some very pretty things from some very kind and generious beadmakers.

Pictured from the top, clockwise:

A gorgeous floral pendant on a gold chain from Leah Fairbanks, a very unique and fun flower shaped necklace on a silk cord from Sharon Driscoll, and to the left, one of Amy Holms' (Formfireglassworks) Droplet necklaces in grey.

I still need a number of jewelry items for this event - if you are a lampwork beadmaker and make jewelry, please contact me. The deadline for me to receive these pieces is September 12 - please help if you can.

Here's the fun-filled agenda for the fundraiser weekend:

Hosted by: Norcal ISGB
Location: Aanraku Glass Studio
41 S. Railroad Ave., San Mateo, CA 94401 [map]

Friday, September 18, 2009: 10-8pm
* Bead Challenges: 1pm and 4pm
* Famous Beetles Bead Toss: 6pm
* Delicious barbecue: 6-8pm

Saturday, September 19, 2009: 9-3pm
* Bead Challenges: 10-noon
* Reception and Live Auction: 6-8pm
($30 per person. Includes food and drink.)

I'll be there torching away on both days, and generally helping as I'm able. Come on out for a great glassy day and help us help this fabulous organization.


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